Submitted by Dottie DeHart, DeHart & Company Public Relations, DeHartandcompany.com
New York, NY — Do either of these scenarios sound familiar?
A colleague sends you a snarky email, so you type a cutting response right back.A Facebook “friend” insults your political beliefs in a post, so you write a scathing comment about their obvious cluelessness.
likes to back down, give in, knuckle under, or swallow an insult. And
showing weakness isn’t likely to get you anything but disrespect and
marginalization…right?Wrong. Communication consultant Geoffrey Tumlin
says being what some would call a “wimp” is often an effective
response. And in the right circumstances, it can even be a way to get
“Weakness can be a very effective communication tool,” said
Tumlin, author of the new book Stop Talking, Start Communicating:
Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life“In many
scenarios, allowing the other party to maintain what appears to be ‘the
upper hand’ can help you successfully navigate volatile situations,
protect important relationships, and get you what you want personally
So why do we feel it’s okay—even smart—to
maintain a forceful presence? Some of it might be the vestiges of our
caveman past, but Tumlin believes it’s also a consequence of the digital
communication revolution. We’ve gotten in the habit of impulsive,
expedient, and self-expressive communication. We can chat, tweet, text,
and email to our hearts’ content. And because it’s all so quick and
easy, we’ve come to believe that it’s our right, as citizens of the
digital age, to say what we want, when we want.“One consequence of
this mistaken belief is that we often fight back too quickly and too
forcefully whenever we’re annoyed,” Tumlin says. “But impulsive and
unfiltered communication—whether it happens face-to-face or
digitally—often costs us dearly. Because we aren’t willing to be seen as
wimps, conflicts escalate and relationships deteriorate. We would do
much better to hold our tongues, control our emotions, and focus on
long-term goals instead of on short-term gratification.”
Tumlin shares six ways to get ahead by showing weakness:
with weakness. We all too often use more force than we need to
accomplish our objectives. We yell when a measured response would work
better, send a blistering e-mail when a more restrained reply would
suffice, or issue an ultimatum when a firm but gentle statement of
convictions would do. Conflicts that start or escalate with excessive
force frequently cause a destructive cycle—attack, retaliation,
escalated attack, and escalated retaliation, etc. No matter how
justified you may feel, the bottom line is that using excessive force
isn’t usually a winning strategy.
“You should try to apply the least
amount of interpersonal force and intensity necessary to accomplish your
objective,” asserts Tumlin. “In other words, bring a stick to a knife
fight. No, it’s not always easy when emotions are running high, but a
‘weak’ response can often stabilize a harsh conversation and prevent
damage to the underlying relationship. Try to stay serious and focused
and keep the conversation as brief as possible. Keep your words calm,
controlled, and even boring—don’t add any new emotional material."
down from challenges. In our achievement-oriented society, backing down
from a verbal challenge can be the equivalent of not accepting a
triple-dog-dare on the playground. But that’s exactly what smart
communicators do. They know that our quick, cheap, and easy digital
devices allow us to have far too many unnecessary conversations, engage
in way too much unnecessary chatter, and get our hands (and thumbs) on
too many irrelevant issues. Smart communicators are willing to let some
problems go unsolved so that they can focus on those that are truly
“I recommend dividing challenges and problems into three
categories: Now, Delay, and Avoid,” instructs Tumlin. “Problems in the
Now category require an immediate, solution-based conversation. Don’t
automatically assign too many issues to this category—this is the most
frequent miscalculation of our ‘everything now’ digital age.
your default category,” he adds. “Many issues don’t need your active
intervention, and others may disappear completely or resolve themselves
without your participation. Finally, some issues reflect highly
emotional, incredibly complicated, and other volatile feelings that
reside deep inside the other person. Avoid them unless they are
impairing the accomplishment of critical work.”
people win. Jane talks too much. Jim is incredibly stubborn. Uncle Billy
loves to argue. Whether they’re controlling, critical, or cranky, the
behaviors that make someone a difficult person tend to spark frequent
confrontations—even though we’re unlikely to influence these people. For
example, we wrestle with Jane to get a word in edgewise. We struggle to
change Jim’s mind. We fire a barrage of points and counterpoints into
Uncle Billy’s arguments. It’s time to quit trying, insists Tumlin.
the end of a conversation, the difficult person remains the same, but
often you are in a weaker position,” he points out. “Only a commitment
to let go of your desire to ‘win’ by imposing your will on the other
person can realistically and consistently improve your communication
with difficult people. When you find yourself with no choice but to
interact with a difficult person, have modest expectations, avoid
tangents, and stay focused on your end goal. It’s really all you can
Swallow your pride and say you’re sorry. Apologizing to
another person isn’t easy, even when you know you’re in the wrong. It’s
even tougher when you think that the other person is being unreasonable.
And, of course, it doesn’t help that certain people view apologies as a
sign of weakness. Yet Tumlin believes you should apologize anyway.
so many situations, a well-placed ‘I’m sorry’ can keep an incident from
escalating and can prevent lasting harm,” he says. “Usually, salvaging a
relationship and staying on track to accomplish your goals is worth a
momentary blow to your pride.
“Apologizing might seem weak, but in
fact, it’s a powerful communication maneuver. Most people have a very
hard time refusing a sincere and timely apology. ‘I’m sorry’ cures a
wide variety of interpersonal ills.”
Ignore insults. When
somebody offends you, your inner Neanderthal rushes to the front of your
brain, urging you to club your foe over the head and show the other
person that you won’t allow yourself to be treated that way. But guess
what? Your inner Neanderthal isn’t known for restraint, civility, or
strategic thinking. Sure, it might feel good to act on your emotions and
indulge your impulses, but responding aggressively to insults can also
result in a lot of long-term damage.
“No, I’m not suggesting that feelings don’t matter. And
I’m not suggesting that you should let anyone insult you consistently.
But people say things they quickly come to regret all the time. Don’t
let your inner Neanderthal lunge for the club; give the other person a
chance to self-correct instead.
“Even if you’re offended, try not to
let the interaction escalate,” he adds. “Not allowing your feelings to
dictate your words will impact your quality of life profoundly: You will
get what you want more often. By focusing on what you want to
accomplish instead of what you want to say, your goal—and the underlying
relationship—can survive for another conversation.”
constantly defending your beliefs. Standing up for your convictions has
been the American way since the Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration
of Independence in 1776. And yes, you should speak up when you feel your
own or someone else’s well-being is being threatened. But even though
others might label you a wimp for keeping your mouth shut, you don’t
have to rise to every challenge. Even though your brother-in-law’s
political rants on Facebook make your blood boil, you don’t have to
comment on why you disagree with each and every post.
impulsive disclosure and reflexive communication can upset the people
who are most important to your work and personal life,” Tumlin says.
yourself which is more important to you: throwing your two cents in or
maintaining a decent relationship?” he continues. “And be especially
careful on Facebook and Twitter because there are many more deeply held
beliefs to consider. Play your cards closer to the vest. Failure to
exercise caution around sensitive topics can lead to a relational
explosion.”“It’s like Kenny Rogers sang in ‘The Gambler’:
‘You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to
walk away, and know when to run,’” Tumlin concludes.
About the Author: Geoffrey
Tumlin is the author of Stop Talking, Start Communicating:
Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life. He is the
founder and CEO of Mouthpeace Consulting LLC, a communication consulting
company; president of On-Demand Leadership, a leadership development
company; and founder and board chair of Critical Skills Nonprofit, a
501(c)(3) public charity dedicated to providing communication and
leadership skills training to chronically underserved populations.
Tumlin holds a PhD and an MA in communication from the University of Texas at Austin and a BS from West Point.
For more about Geoffrey Tumlin at www.tumlin.com, and you can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
the Book: Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets
to Success in Business and in Life (McGraw-Hill, August 2013, ISBN:
978-0-0718130-4-4, $20.00, www.tumlin.com) is available at bookstores
nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.tumlin.com.